E-Learning and Knowledge Sharing (ELKS) Community and a forthcoming seminar…

We at the Beyond Distance Research Alliance are hosting an online community of practitioners and researchers interested in e-learning and learning technologies. The purpose of the community, called ELKS (E-Learning and Knowledge Sharing) is to share resources and expertise via online events such as seminars about using technology to improve teaching and learning.

ELKS Community is affiliated with the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID).

Membership of the ELKS Community is open to individuals and institutions. We anticipate that members participate in online discussions and host online events related to their area of expertise.

More about ELKS is available from the website at : http://elkscommunity.wetpaint.com/

Please have a look, and if you like to become a member please email me at pe27@le.ac.uk.

Perhaps you might like to take part in next ELKS Seminar on the 21st of August 2009 at 13.30hrs BST.

The title of the seminar is “From Post to Postings: A Brief History of ‘Arms Length’ Learning”. In this one hour session, Professor David Hawkridge, the founding Director of The UK Open Univesity’s Institution of Educational Technology is taking us through a brief history of the developments in learning technologies and the impact on the roles of students and tutors. An introduction to the seminar available here http://elkscommunity.wetpaint.com/

Like all ELKS seminars, this is an online seminar that can be accessed from a standard internet browser. Please email me at pe27@le.ac.uk if you would like to take part in this free seminar. The URL to access the seminar will be available on the 10th of August.

Palitha Edirisingha

Creating to share; promises and pitfalls

Last week I participated in a seminar organized by JISC in Ormskirk. The focus of the seminar was creating and sharing digital content with emphasis on the promises and pitfalls of Open Educational Resources (OER). Representatives from the CETL on Reusable Learning Objects, SOLSTICE, ROCOCO, Q-ROLO, Open Spires and ReFORM spoke about their projects and took part in discussions about the future of OERs. I came away from the meeting with a feeling that whilst Open Educational Resources offer a lot of promise there is the need for a concerted effort to debate and find solutions to some of the drawbacks that threaten the potential benefits of these resources to the HE sector. Here are a few things mentioned regarding benefits and pitfalls:

Benefits
• Economies of scale in terms of cost benefit analysis
• Improved access and better use of existing resources
• Innovation in the design of teaching and learning materials

Pitfalls
• Copyright issues
• Institutional barriers in terms of existing curriculum processes
• Lack of local content repositories
• OER literacy i.e. the capacity of academic staff to create and share open learning resources

I was quite struck by the discussion on how to engage various stakeholders to maximize the benefits of OERs whilst addressing the pitfalls. What was missing in all the discussions was the role of learners in advancing the vision of the OER movement. The Edgeless University report has emphasized the need to engage students in the design of courses to better understand their needs and also determine when and how teaching and learning should happen in the future. Clearly, making OERs more sustainable will require not just institutional commitment to “openness” in teaching and learning, or overcoming copyright hurdles or changing staff attitudes towards “open learning design” but more importantly how we as OER practitioners draw lessons from student experiences in HE to improve the quality of our materials in order to motivate learners locally and international to use these materials.

Samuel Nikoi ( 24 July 2009)

What are you doing about TWITTER and learning?

Twitter enables social networking, live searching and link-sharing that appeals to many young people and those at work because it has a ‘right now’ feel to it. In 12 months (between April 2008-09) user numbers increased by 1,298% and now stands at 17.1 million users.

Twitter is a free, readily accessible, very easy to use, web 2.0 platform that limits each message to brief posts (‘tweets’), i.e. maximum 140 characters long. They can be received and sent by computer or mobile.

These tweets are received only by those who have chosen to receive them (called ‘followers’) or by those in a Twitter ‘group’. They are used for reporting on activity, exchanging ideas by people who are not together but also to provide a ‘back channel’ during more formal proceedings such as a conference.

Now where is the use for learning. Isn’t tweeting knowledge sharing???

This week’s issue of TIME magazine addressed the Twitter issue – demonstrating embryonic uses in wide scale news sharing, the growing value of searching, and advertising.

At Leicester, we’re planning to have a go and test out tweeting as a pedagogical process.

What are you doing about it right now?

Gilly Salmon

Learning through off-the-wall conversations

The Open University hosted a ‘CAMEL’ workshop last week for a cluster of participants in JISC-funded projects. (CAMEL is a great community of practice model for e-learning management. See Theo’s blog for a nice succinct description or the CAMEL website for more info on this.) Ming and I attended from Beyond Distance in our capacity as researchers on the Beyond Distance DUCKLING project.

It was a hugely inspiring day for me – there was a kind of energy and warmth in this group of people who had been thrown together for the day that is usually only found amongst friends who have known each other for years. Full marks to Peter Chatterton and Steve Garner for setting up this wonderfully nourishing event. (And the Chinese dinner afterwards played no small part in the day’s success!)

Andy Bardill and Bob Fields from Middlesex University set the scene for the day by telling us about a fascinating project they are doing with their Interaction Design students. Imagine a design studio in a well-equipped university, with a lecturer and six to eight students sitting around a large table, and one student showing his or her photos or drawings to the group for critique. The conventional way to do this is to have each student projecting his or her work onto the wall using a data projector, while the rest of the students comment and take notes.

Andy and Bob are not conventional teachers, though, and they felt frustrated at the limited interaction, as most of the students sat with their heads bowed taking notes on their laptops. Their solution was to ban laptops from the classroom (an initially unpopular decision), and to project each student’s work from a ceiling-mounted projector onto the table (an accidental, but very exciting discovery, as it happened) instead of the wall… They covered the table with flipchart paper to provide a sort of screen for the projected image.

The side-effect (literally!) was that students started writing their notes on the table around the edges of the projected image, instead of typing on their disallowed laptops. This immediately had the effect of making previously private notes public, and catapulted the group into deeper conversation. At the end of each session, students started spontaneously taking photos of the conversation on the table as a record of their ‘notes’. You can see some of these intriguing photos on Andy Bardill’s Flickr page.
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdxinteractiondesign/)

The next development was to video the unfolding conversation on the table with a ceiling-mounted video camera, in order to have a record for later analysis of the learning process. No doubt we’ll hear more from Andy and Bob about what they’ve learnt from this as the project progresses.

In the meantime, it is worth noting that the simple act of moving the focus from the wall (‘out there/ away from us’) to the table (‘in here/ amongst us’) resulted in a change of perspective for the whole group. It enabled people to physically move around the image. Their interactions became focused on the centre of the table, as they gestured towards the central image while discussing it. A bit like the hub of a wheel that keeps the spokes together, this central point kept the participants connected in a way that a projected image on a wall cannot easily do. The popular literature from neurolinguistic programming also tells us that when we look down, we are drawing more on the emotional part of our brain. Perhaps there’s something in that too.

Thanks, Bob and Andy, for reminding us that technology on the sidelines (and on the ceiling) can sometimes be much more effective than technology on our laps or in-our-faces. We’ll be watching this space for more off-the-wall inspiration. (Just let us know which space, so we don’t get left behind staring at the table while you’ve moved onto the floor… or underground…)

Gabi Witthaus

Knowledge sharing

Some time ago David Hawkridge wisely suggested a centrally held, easily accessible resource for BDRA, containing a well-indexed set of academic references that colleagues can use in their writing. Today we have a growing RefWorks database covering many of the areas that are central to our research.

As has been reported in this blog before, the Friday morning Writing Group provides a forum for BDRA colleagues to run their drafts past their peers in a safe, informal and constructively critical environment. Last week, however, we altered the usual Writing Group session and conducted a structured three-hour knowledge-sharing seminar instead. Its aim was to to share the key lessons that individuals or groups of colleagues have learnt from recent conferences and other activities, enabling the rest of the team to benefit from them. It was a very good opportunity to revisit and debate the main ideas and concepts.

Topics included:

  • BDRA’s collaboration with the RAF
  • ‘Shock of the Old’ conference, Oxford
  • Occupational Psychology Course Conference at Leicester (DUCKLING project)
  • JISC Curriculum Delivery meeting, Birmingham (DUCKLING project)
  • Considerations from 2 timely reports: ‘The sustainability of learning and teaching in English higher education’ and ‘Thematic enquiries into concerns about academic quality and standards in higher education in England’.
  • Work-based curriculum delivery and assessment
  • CABLE (from the HE Academy CABLE-Carpe Diem event held on 5 May)
  • A range of salient issues from many other recent national and international conferences

The session, which was attended by all BDRA staff, was very informative, interactive and enjoyable. We are now considering ways to maximise the impact of our lessons learned on the team, beyond the occasional F2F knowledge-sharing sessions that we will continue to organise. Not surprisingly, we are discussing ways in which technology can help.

Alejandro Armellini
17 May 2009

A question of OERiginality

The latest animal to join the technology-in-education zoo at the BDRA is the OTTER (Open, Transferrable, Technology-enabled Educational Resources) project. This project is focused on releasing a range of learning materials from the safety of the University’s walled garden into the big, wild, World Wide Web, in the form of OERs (open educational resources). The OTTER project is one of a number of soon-to-be-launched JISC-funded projects involving the development of OERs.

I have had conversations about OERs with various colleagues in various different places and educational settings in recent years, and have noticed that the subject often seems to generate heated debate.

Firstly, there’s the question of why to produce OERs at all: why offer something free when you can charge for it? For some people, the conversation ends there – they simply can’t see the point. And you won’t persuade them by talking about contributing to the common good. (Although in my view, that’s a perfectly valid argument.) But you might just be able to convince them that by publishing your materials free of charge, you are expanding your reach, making your name known, and thereby potentially increasing your prestige. It worked for MIT.

Then there’s the question of how: how to package the resources in such a way that other people can access them, use them, modify them and so on. For some people of a technical bent, this is what it’s all about, and they will suddenly launch into an animated monologue about the intricacies of SCORM conformance and standards for interoperability, trackability and so on.

The usual consequence of mentioning the word SCORM (which stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model – in case you were wondering), and its attendant details, is that the eyes of most people in the room will glaze over, and at this stage, the conversation often just fizzles out. However, it might occur to someone to mention the word ‘granularity’, at which point things will get really heated: How small is a learning object? How long is a piece of string? It’s incredible how agitated people can get about these questions.

Then, if everyone is still on talking terms after the granularity debate, someone is bound to casually mention that they would never use OERs in their own teaching. This is likely to be greeted by at least a small chorus of agreement. For many of us, originality is at the heart of our value system. The thought of deliberately going out looking for course materials produced by someone else is anathema. We believe we owe it to our students to give them learning materials that are soaked with the sweat of our long hours of original work, illustrating our unique take on the subject.

Perhaps the time has come to ask ourselves how helpful this approach is, in this age of learning 2.0. Are we perhaps doing our students a disservice, trying to feed them home-grown food – running ourselves into the ground milking the cows and tending to the chickens, when we could just go to the co-op and pick up a bottle of milk and a dozen eggs, and then put some creative energy into working out how best to combine them?

A shift from ‘subsistence farming’ in education towards a more organised, cooperative approach to knowledge production and sharing might enable us to direct our energy towards new areas, freeing up time for us to think. And who knows what might happen when more educators have more time to think. 

By Gabi Witthaus

Gurus of the 21st Century

In the Era of Learning 2.0, we want our students to be knowledge diggers and sharers, independent and evaluative learners, highly motivated to achieve, more supportive and yet more constructively critical of each others’ work. Don’t we?

What if there was a webby platform that supported these fine aspirations? Would we encourage its use?
Gradeguru.com (an offshoot of publishing group McGraw Hill) offers a way forward. Does this help?

Many academics I’ve talked to are largely unconvinced that taking part will be little more than a diversion and might be harmless to learning!

Grade guru just signed a contract with Turnitin so plagiarism is partly taken care of…. Motivation is incentived with vouchers for the most popular posts, judged by the users.

Gilly Salmon

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